I recently graduated Cum Laude with a BTech in Graphic Design. I got 95% for the design side and 80% for my theory. I won the top BTech designer of the year award in 2014, learned how to make iPhone apps and created an iPhone app and campaign called Tap Nap, which included prints ads, radio ads and video ads.
I started on this journey in 2013 not knowing much about apps, except that I could download them, that I spent a lot of time on them and that I would like to create an amazing one someday. I had been working in the web industry for a few years but was unfulfilled with what I was doing – working on client website after website, with most of the sites not actually doing anything. So I decided to do some part time studying. I chose DUT because they were a creative 4th year in Durban that accepted my Vega undergrad qualification; were keen on research and academic writing; weren’t too expensive ; and I’ve have seen some great designers come out of the institution.
Working on 1 outcome for 2 years was intense and unusual for me. Because we live in an immediate world it was a big learning curve to actively pursue 1 thing for so long. And I realise that some people pursue 1 thing for longer – some their entire lives. During my first year of studying I took on some freelance projects to bolster my halved income due to my half-days (which were amazing), but this extra work put me on the back foot when it came to research, writing and creating – and I never really caught up that year. I missed deadlines, and my ideas were sporadic and underdeveloped. I decided to stop all freelance projects and take on no new work for my second year. It was a big step. From January onwards I was making no extra money, which wasn’t helping our newly acquired mortgage and I had just started at UXFoundry and we hadn’t happened on our billion dollar app idea yet either (we’re part of the way there now) so things were tight.
But things started to happen. I started working hard on my ideas and my research. I came up with a plan that would see me through the year. I started hitting deadlines, but I still wasn’t at the level I was capable of. I was used to doing things quickly – my work in the web industry was antithetical to this research-and-do-1-big-thing procedure. I designed about 3 iterations of the app before showing it to people, and then designed another 2 before developing it. After the app was out in the wild, I designed another 2 versions. Constantly iterating and working on an idea is amazing. Where everything changes is when you speak to the people who use your app, or don’t use it for some reason, or delete it after 2 days (while you’re meant to use it for at least 21 days). Interesting things start to emerge when I got other people involved – and not necessarily things I wanted to hear. Designing around the user and what you want them to do, while they’re in total control is another level of design – and I don’t quite think I pulled it off with Tap Nap. Tap Nap was too dry, to monotonous. I think I needed more imagery, more fun, more something – but the experience of creating an app was amazing. I would recommend that to anyone.
And then I had my lecturers to deal with. And they’re not about getting it out the door ASAP, or about the money. They challenge your ideas. They make you think. They have their own ideas of your ideas. And then some of them don’t completely understand the new world of apps, IM, social media like I do. As a 21 year old student I gave into my lecturers a lot easier. But when you’re 26, married (unbelievable to most students I studied with), and have been a professional for the past 5 years, it’s hard to relate to lecturers in that same way. They helped a lot and are integral to the process.
I realised that in late 2013 that I was hugely affected by doing too much. Being busy. Filling every increment of time with something – which most often was an app or game. Social media, and the design blogs I followed, made me feel average about the work I was creating. It was a terrible world for me to live in. So I decided to create an app and a campaign to get people off of their phones, tablets, computers, televisions. And doing stuff they wanted to do. Stuff they needed to do. Stuff that was important.
In 2014 I learned how to make iPhone apps with Paul Solt, made my first app Paleo List for UXFoundry, and then proceeded to make Tap Nap after a few months of research, user testing and content creation. I researched a lot and wrote an academic report. It’s long and academic – but I realised I enjoy writing – and I enjoy writing well. But it’s a muscle, that if not used get’s useless – just like most other skills. One thing I did, which I wasn’t intending to do, was create a bunch of radio ads. It’s writing coming to life. It was challenging recording and editing and all that when I had little idea of what I was doing, but they came out really well!
What these 2 years have taught me, through my research and through the BTech process, is that you can’t and mustn’t do everything. You must have a plan and do things as sequentially as you can. You cannot write without having researched first, for example. If you have 1 big thing to do, saying no to other things is much easier. Those little things trip you up. Those little things take your focus off of your big things. Those little thing are little and won’t amount to much in the long run. In the short term it could mean a little more cash, a fist-bump from a friend or a temporary high, but in the end it’s not worth it.
But as much as I enjoyed making iPhone apps, I’m giving it up for now. I would love to get back into that space, and design and make games and apps, but I’ve got some other bigger things that I’m doing in the meantime. I’m letting the Tap Nap website and my iOS developer license expire.
I would highly recommend doing your BTech in graphic design. It was a great 2 years and well worth the bucks I paid, and the time I took to complete it. If I were to do it again, I would do it in 1 year, without having any sort of job at all and research, write and produce the most amazing things ever – it’s a year to set up your life basically. 1 year to impress. 1 year of not having to pay rent. 1 year of getting really good at something. If you can stay with your parents for free, or someone close to DUT, then do it! There is value in doing the fourth year after you’ve worked a bit – I found I was much more willing to be there, with my own money, and made a conscious effort to learn as much as I could. The more time you can put into your work the better. I initially studied at Vega, and found the students at DUT much better versed in drawing and design, but I found being at Vega helped me much more with ideation and conceptualisation of ideas, as well as having a broader skill set because of studying multimedia design. I know some alumni of both institutions have done super well and some who haven’t, but the key thing is to do the best you can with what you have in front of you. And think long term – at least once a week. Going forward, I would love to study my masters in interaction design or user experience design at some European or US university in the near future.
I want to thank Rowan Gatfield, Piers Carey and Sharon Zoepke for all their time and effort with me. These guys are great. And then thank you James Howse for your sound recording equipment; Luke Siedle and Eleanor Rigby for your amazing voices; Jordi van Dyk for the background music in some radio ads and the Hey my amazing video; and Pete Scully for waking up early for a photo shoot! And then my wife, Chantelle, was amazing. She cooked. She cleaned. She forced me to go write, to research, to make. She gave advice. She prayed for me. She stood up for me. She encouraged me. She was on my side the whole way through. So thank you my love!
So below are print ads, radio ads, my Hey my amazing video and some screenshots of the app.
The Hey my amazing video was pretty fun to make. Below are the print ads for Tap Nap
Below are the Life radio ads.
Below are the Hey my amazing radio ads.
And here are a few shots of what the app looks like. The animation in the app, that you won’t be able to see here, was really fun.
I must just credit these guys for the background music in the radio ads:
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